With wildfires destroying millions of acres each year in the western United States, reforestation efforts are essential to help restore landscapes and protect water resources, experts who spoke to the the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The committee unanimously passed a replacement version of a bill introduced last week that would provide $4.68 million for a reforestation center. This replacement bill grew out of a memorandum of understanding between the State Forestry Division and three institutions of higher learning – New Mexico State University, Highland University of New -Mexico and the University of New Mexico. It was a requirement of the original bill.
State Forester Laura McCarthy said legislation is the only way to get seed funding for the reforestation center.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Phelps Anderson, I -Roswell. .
“The purpose of the center is to address the impact of climate change on the state’s forests and to meet the state’s current and future reforestation needs through the establishment of a climate bank program. seeds, a nursery program and a planting program,” Sariñana told the committee.
There is currently no reforestation center in the southwestern United States. One of the main missions will be to collect seeds which will be germinated in a nursery capable of producing five million plants annually. The majority of the funding, $3.6 million, will go towards a feasibility study and site assessment design.
Owen Burney, superintendent of the John T. Harrington Forest Research Center at New Mexico State University in Mora, said New Mexico’s forests are experiencing some of the most destructive wildfires in history and that this trend is expected to continue.
“Unfortunately, many of those forests that succumbed to those fires are not growing back naturally, resulting in an overall loss of our forests in New Mexico,” he said. “Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we invest in a reforestation program that will contribute to forest health, water resources, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, recreation and many other valuable resources. .”
He said New Mexico needed a million acres of reforestation, which would require 150 million to 200 million seedlings. NMSU’s current production capacity is approximately 300,000 plants per year. Burney said NMSU has the only program and nursery in the state.
“It would take us over 500 years to reforest this current landscape and that does not include future fires. So you can see that we are just losing our forests over time,” he said.
Joshua Sloan, an associate professor of forestry at Highland University of New Mexico, said the state’s initial investment, if the bill passes, will bring economic benefits. An independent economic analysis estimated that 475 new full-time jobs will be created as a result of the activities of the reforestation center and that it will contribute $900 million to the state economy.
Matt Hurtado, a professor at the University of New Mexico, said seedlings planted after fires tend to have a low survival rate, in part because they are more susceptible to drought. He said the state has a limited window of time to reforest many burn scars.
“We know that we currently need to reforest some of our lower elevation areas where the temperature is increasing more rapidly and we are exceeding the tolerance of these seedlings for survival,” he said during the public comments section of the meeting. of the committee.
The bill now heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.